The Bees’ Last Buzz
“Bees!” There we go again with our typical reaction – stunned, afraid. >”It will sting me!” But did you know that critics are claiming that the approach to saving bees seems to be declining?
The importance of bees in this world is beyond our understanding. Without bees and other pollinators the world we all know today would be different. Pollination would be nearly impossible, and the beautiful flowers that we see today would likely be nowhere to be found. Bees are a necessity to the reproduction of plants.
According to a report, Wisconsin pollinator inhabitants have been decreasing for years, threatening the development of apples, cranberries, cherries and many other fruits and vegetables that depend on bees and other pollinators to fertilize them and help them produce seeds and fruit. Yet, critics say that a recently issued draft of a pollinator protection plan for Wisconsin may offer only limited relief for the insects. The plan was to recommend voluntary actions like increasing roadside plantings and pollinator–friendly home gardens. However, it will set no targets for decreasing the use of a controversial class of agricultural pesticides, neonicotinoids, that fatally attack the brain of the insects.
Harriet Behar, an organic farming specialist with the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, a nonprofit that promotes sustainable agriculture, said that if it’s all voluntary, it’s basically something that no one has to follow, so what is the point?
Bees through the years
“Pollinators are struggling,” said John Holdren White House Science Adviser in a blog post citing a new federal survey that found beekeepers lost more than 40 percent of their colonies last year, although they later recovered by dividing surviving hives.
Bees and other pollinating insects perform play a vital role in the ecosystem. A third of our food production is contingent on their pollination. A world without pollinators would be disturbing for food production.
Beekeepers around the world have observed the mysterious and sudden disappearance of bees, and report unusually high rates of declining honeybee colonies since the late 1990s.
“The dramatic decline of bees is just a symptom of a failed agricultural system based on the intensive use of chemicals”, said Matthias Wuthrich, Greenpeace Ecological Farming campaigner and European bees project leader at Greenpeace Switzerland.
The main reasons for global bee decline are connected to industrial agriculture, parasites or pathogens, and climate change, but nothing can beat the bee-killing pesticides of Bayer and Syngenta that pose a direct risk to pollinators.
Neonics, a type of pesticide that targets the insect’s brain, are quickly growing in market share and have become the most widely used insecticides across the globe, not to mention the billions of dollars in sales they rake in every year. Neonics can be applied through spraying, by soaking the soil around the plants, and by covering seeds with it before planting.
In addition, Neonics are systemic. Unlike other pesticides that remain on the surface of the treated foliage, Neonics are taken up by the plant and transported to all the tissues such as the leaves, flowers, roots, stems, pollen, and nectar. These pesticides are less harmful to humans and wildlife since they are a potent neurotoxin that are chemically designed to attack the nervous systems of pest insects that eat any part of a treated plant, causing death.
“Ag practices depend on us taming nature. Farmers don’t like variability and uncertainty. With neonics, there is less application since its present in the plant the entire season; it’s a one-and-done. Overall there is less used, but there are also a lot of unintended consequences,” said Claudio Gratton, professor of entomology at the University of Wisconsin- Madison. He also worked on the pollinator proposal for the state Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection.
“Neonics have allowed people to ignore good agronomic processes. “We don’t have to rotate crops anymore. We just kill everything off with Neonics. If we make conservation crop rotation a big push in Wisconsin, so farmers don’t have the pest and disease problems they are currently trying to solve with Neonics that would be a big help,” said Harriet Behar, Crawford County farmer and beekeeper.
Nonetheless, scientists have recognized numerous situations where even if insects such as bees are not feeding on the treated plants, they still suffer unintentional harm or death due to close contact with Neonics. The ways that bees can be exposed are through contact with pollen or nectar of treated plants, droplets of water on plants, and by visiting flowers and other plants that are contaminated by Neonics. It is also clear that accidental exposure during spraying can result to high doses of Neonics that can result in death for bees.
What awaits the bees
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has begun to conduct studies into the safety of widely used neonicotinoids pesticides, which have been temporarily banned in Europe. It will not approve new types of uses of the pesticides until more study is done, if then, according to a report.
A study backed by the Wisconsin Potato Industry Board and led in the state’s Central Sands area noticed contamination of Neonics in groundwater and found that high-capacity irrigation well water was recycling Neonics back onto farmland. The findings were extremely alarming; it can affect “non-target organisms” such as bees, the authors said.
Also, an international task force concluded that the extensive use of Neonics and a similar systemic insecticide, fipronil, are important contributors to the decades-long trend of declining populations of pollinators and other insects. This was determined through the observation made by more than 800 peer-reviewed studies. They said that these are “vital to food security and sustainable development.”
Not only do these movements and organizations have the initiative to save the bees, but farmers are also willing to look for alternatives to using chemicals.
“Farmers continually search for ways to reduce the risk of crop loss due to pests in part to meet consumer demand for low food prices,” said Russell Groves, an insect ecologist and vegetable crop specialist at the UW-Madison Department of Entomology.
Steve Groff, a farmer and seed dealer in Pennsylvania, recently began an experiment with support from Penn State to see if planting Neonic-free corn seed would protect the beneficial insects that prey on the slugs that destroy his corn. The experiment was successful.
“We started seeing that when we planted green, we had less slug pressure. By using alternative farming strategies, such as crop rotation, cover cropping and not tilling soil”, Groff said he has reduced his insecticide use by 80 percent. He plans to experiment again this year with a larger plot of Neonic-free corn seed.
Moreover, the pollinator report was dedicated to a review of the risks of Neonic use. This includes the negative impacts on pollinators, the development of resistance in targeted pest insects, and leaching into soil and water.
Some Neonics are already restricted in Europe and are the subject of lawsuits in the U.S. and Canada due to concerns about their impact on pollinator health and lack of sufficient regulation.
For example, Oregon banned the application of any product containing the Neonics dinotefuran, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin on some flowering trees after a number of Neonics-related bee deaths occurred.
According to Lex Horan, of the advocacy organization Pesticide Action Network, “As concerns are raised, companies always have a new product to replace one which is going out.”
What’s more, according to the company spokeswoman Jane Slusark, DuPont Pioneer has developed a new systemic seed treatment called Lumivia for corn pests, which has “little to no impact on pollinators.”
Saving the bees in not just the government’s issue. Each of us plays a part to help the bees live and prosper by supporting the change towards ecological farming and helping protect the bees.
For a wealth of tips and hints about becoming a bee keeper yourself, please visit – Discover Beekeeping